Tom Brady ranked fourth on the NFL Network’s Top 100 list, which is understandable given the trio ahead of him. Vince Wilfork, meanwhile, sits 77 spots below, likely left wondering what more he could have done.
The Patriots are an offensive-minded, pass-first team. That’s going to be the case when you have one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game on your side. But while the Patriots’ defense was scrutinized time and time again last season, one man dodged blame because there’s not much that can be thrown his way in terms of criticism. And that’s Wilfork.
Now that the complete NFL Top 100 list has been revealed with Wilfork sitting at No. 81, however, it’s obvious the lineman didn’t get a fair shake.
Sure, the New England defense had its weaknesses, but those primarily existed in the secondary — an area not reserved for 325-pounders (even if Wilfork’s nose for the football resulted in his first two career picks last year). Up front, Wilfork was his usual self, consistently elevating his game and showing that he’s one of the game’s premier interior linemen.
Yet, he’s rewarded by getting dropped 46 spots from 2011’s NFL Top 100. When you take that dropoff into account, Wilfork’s ranking is almost criminal. Not only was he the Patriots’ best defensive player, but he was a game-changer, and perhaps no game made that more clear than New England’s AFC Championship victory over Baltimore.
Wilfork had six tackles (three solo), a sack and three tackles for a loss in that game to help the Patriots secure a Super Bowl berth. His contributions went beyond the stat sheet, though, as he single-handedly overtook the Ravens’ offensive line at times, especially during the game’s biggest moments.
In that AFC Championship win, Wilfork followed up a monster play in which he took down running back Ray Rice in the backfield with another crucial stop on fourth down, busting through the line immediately to pressure quarterback Joe Flacco.
Obviously, these rankings — voted on by the players — take into account more than just one play, one possession or one game, but Wilfork’s overall body of work has been just as impressive as that one performance. Despite his massive frame, Wilfork has become a three-down player for the Patriots, speaking to how unique, gifted and well-conditioned he truly is. He may not seem it on the surface, but Wilfork is one of the more athletic players on the New England roster.
Wilfork isn’t a top 10 player, a top 20 player or probably even a top 30 player, but No. 81 seems a bit low for someone so established, especially since he was as good this season as he’s ever been.
Wilfork probably isn’t too concerned about where he ranks on such a list. And the rankings mean little in the grand scheme of things. But if Patriots fans are going to split hairs about any rankings, it isn’t Tom Brady’s that they should be focused on.